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Mary Tyler Moore: America’s Sweetheart Dies at 80

Mary Tyler Moore: America’s Sweetheart Dies at 80 in the company of her husband and friends

She starred on her eponymous sitcom and on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’. These have been two of the most acclaimed comedies ever. Then against type, acted for ‘Ordinary People’ to earn an Oscar nom. Mary Tyler Moore played the roles as a spunky, single working woman in her eponymous ‘70s and as a perky housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1960s. These roles made her sweetheart of the America. Her rep Mara Buxbaum has confirmed her death. She was 80.

Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore

Buxbaum said in her statement, “Today, Mary Tyler Moore, our beloved icon, died at the age of 80 in the company of her husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine, and her friends.” She played opposite her TV persona and in Robert Redford’s best-picture winner Ordinary People, for her performance as an icy mother struggling to connect with her son, received an Oscar nomination.


In May 2012, the six-time Emmy Award winner had elective surgery. This surgery was meant to remove the benign tumor of the lining tissue of her brain or what is known as meningioma. As suburban stay-at-home mom Laura Petrie (1961-66), Moore starred opposite Dick Van Dyke. Then she played Mary Richards – a hard-luck love loser who goes to Minneapolis state and gets a job there at local TV station for 6 o’clock news – from 1970-77.

Then she played a bold move. For a series’ main character to be a never-married woman, and an independent, Moore became an icon for the feminist movement. Moore aspired to be a dancer when she was 8 after moving from Brooklyn with her family. When she was cast as a dancing kitchen appliance in commercials, her first ever big break came in – Happy Hotpoint, the Hotpoint Appliance elf.

That led to appearances on many of the TV shows, including Richard Diamond in 1957, Private Detective, in which she Played Diamond’s (David Janssen) sultry who answers as service girl. Her face was never shown but legs. On The Danny Thomas Show, Moore had auditioned for the role of older daughter, but she failed to get the part. (Thomas said reportedly that his not daughter could have that tiny nose) However, in 1961, Thomas recommended her to Carl Reiner. This was the time when he was casting The Dick Van Dyke Show. This was the CBS series that was based on the life and career of Reiner in 1961 as a writer for Sid Caesar’s TV variety shows.

Moore started on The Dick Van Dyke Show when she was 23 (11 years younger at that time than her male co-star). Instead of a dress, often wearing capri pants – that cause quite a stir that time – she took care of the house in New Rochelle, N.Y and their young son Ritchie (Larry Mathews), while Rob, Van Dyke’s character, worked on a sitcom in Manhattan.

In 1964 and 1966, Moore won Emmys and the show collected 15 trophies in all.

Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore

Moore and her second husband, Grant Tinker, who was a former ad executive and VP at Fox Television (chairman of NBC later), pitched The Mary Tyler Moore Show to CBS. On the series, created by Allan Burns and James Brooks, her character dates hundreds of people but never finds true love. Alternating between the home and work, the premise of the single woman would become a TV staple.

The show was a rating’s hit and won 29 Emmys of then recorded. Definitely with darling Moore as the outstanding ensemble centerpiece. And in 1973, 1974 and 1976 she also took home the best comedy actress trophies. Closed with a third straight Emmy for best comedy series, the sitcom anchored CBS’ Saturday night lineup. That also included All in the Family, The Carol Burnett Show and M*A*S*H.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show also called forth shows starring Cloris Leachman (Phyllis), Ed Asner (Lou Grant) and Valerie Harper (Rhoda). All were produced by Tinker and Moore’s company, MTM Enterprises. In 1998, The enterprise was sold to a British company for $320 million.

In 1981, Tinker and Moore divorced and she moved to New York City. Two of the efforts in the late-70s at a variety show followed and failed: The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, within a show, a backstage show, and Mary, which featured Michael Keaton and David Letterman. In another series titled Mary, she returned to CBS in 1985. But that lasted just 18 episodes. In the short-lived 1988-89 comedy Annie McGuire, she played the title character.

Redford cast Moore as Beth Jarrett, in his directorial debut for Ordinary People. She played as a frighteningly cold suburban mother who cannot forgive her teenage son for living after his brother (her favorite son) dies. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote of Moore’s performance: “she is remarkably fine, tough and delicate and desperate simultaneously.” Including one for Redford, the film won four Oscars.

Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore

Early in her career, Moore had a movie contract with Universal. She appeared in such movies as Just Between Friends (1986), Change of Habit (1969) opposite Elvis Presley, Six Weeks (1982), Don’t Just Stand There! (1968), What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and X-15 (1961). For Ordinary People, his directorial debut, Redford cast her as Beth Jarrett, who is a frighteningly cold suburban mother. This mother can’t forgive her teenage son for living after his brother’s (her favorite son) death.


She was seen on TV in guest-starring roles on Hot in Cleveland, Lipstick Jungle and That ‘70s, in more recent years. For her performance in 1993 miniseries Stolen Babies, she won her sixth Emmy.

She appeared on the stage in Whose Life Is It Anyway? It was one among several Broadway plays that MTM Enterprises produced. It earned her special Tony Award, ran for 96 performances, and was opened on Broadway in 1980. She also wrote two autobiographies, which showed the turmoil in her life. The one that was concentrated on living in diabetes published in 2009. And the other in 1995, acknowledging that she was an alcoholic.

Her son Richie, died, in 1980, of an accidental self-inflicted shotgun wound. His age was 24. From a drug overdose, her sister died at the age of 21 two years earlier. Her name was Elizabeth. And her brother, John, at the age of 47 in 1992, died of liver cancer. She was married to cardiologist Robert Levine for the third time. He survived Moore.


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